Chalk this up as something I thought I would never say heading into the season just over a month ago, but the Nashville Predators have some goalie doubts surrounding Juuse Saros and have to start thinking about using Kevin Lankinen more often.
There are no mincing words here; Saros has been average at best, and sometimes just downright terrible. Of course, it’s not all entirely on him as there have been defensive breakdowns abound in front of him and very little offensive production to count on, but he certainly hasn’t done anything to bolster his case of being a top-3 goalie in the NHL through his 10 starts.
Saros’ save percentage has slumped below 90 percent and has been particularly horrendous to open games in the first period. It came to a boiling point in the latest loss to the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday when Saros got beat on his first shot faced, and it was clearly a shot he fanned on:
Just like that, the Predators are down 1-0 and the buzzsaw was on. Saros would give up four goals and get pulled for Lankinen. They never stood a chance in this game and the Kraken made it look like a scrimmage.
Saros has fallen to 54th among goalies in Goals Saved Above Expected according to MoneyPuck.com. Among goaltenders with nine or more starts, there are only four goaltenders tracking worse than Saros in this key statistical category.
Furthermore, Saros has struggled greatly at coming up clutch against High Danger Shots with just a .638 Save Percentage in those situations. Again, among the worst.
On the flip side, Lankinen in a much smaller sample size is 14th in Goals Saved Above Expected and has one of the better save percentages when facing High Dangers Shots. All of this to say you have to at least see if he can continue on that trend and provide a spark against the Avalanche. He may get lit up as well, but it’s worth trying.
This team can’t keep throwing Saros out to the wolves. Although I understand the thought of letting him play his way through it, you also have to consider what is best for the team right now. Forget about egos at this point; the season is in danger of getting completely away from you if you don’t find a spark from somewhere.
What do you do if Saros gets tagged for another three or four goals in the early going against the Avalanche? It’s not that outlandish to think it could happen and then you’re really dealing with a situation where your franchise goaltender is in a bad tailspin.
Lankinen has shown through his three starts that he can be relied upon to give you a gem in net. It might not matter who is in net against the Avalanche on Thursday, but I’m at least giving Lankinen a chance to turn in a solid performance and boost your chances considerably to pull off a much-needed upset.
The thought of Saros getting lit up once again on the road against the Avalanche gives me serious concerns and is a very realistic possibility. Lankinen might come in fresh and locked in as he has been seeing the puck exceptionally well.
Bring Saros back refreshed and reset for Saturday’s matchup with the New York Rangers.
This doesn’t mean that Lankinen should supplant Saros as the primary starter full-time. That would be a knee jerk reaction. However, finding more opportunities for Lankinen to start every three or four games should certainly happen.
Give your team that best chance to win ultimately, and you have to explore if Lankinen can do that better than Saros in some of these upcoming crucial games as the Predators are sitting near the bottom of the Central Division and behind teams like the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks.
Neither the Predators nor Avalanche have confirmed a starting goaltender yet according to Daily Faceoff.